Richard Kuppusamy, an architect by training, is Head of Digital Integration (APAC) at Lendlease, and President of the Disabled People’s Association in Singapore.
Despite being born with spina bifida, he has never let that define him. Read on to find out more about his experiences, how he overcomes challenges and turns negatives into positives, and what motivates him in his pursuit of aspirations.
Note: Responses have been edited for brevity.
What advice do you have for professionals with disabilities looking for jobs? Are there any tips on what they should say or do during interviews?
Never state that you have a disability on your CV. Your disability does not define who you are or what you can do, therefore it has no place on your CV.
Work on your confidence. Don’t approach thinking your disability is a disadvantage and try to ignore that you even have a disability.There’s no need to bring it up at the start.
Focus on your capability. What are you good at? Where can you bring value to your prospective employer?
Ask and listen to what your employer’s needs or problems are. Are you the person who can help fill those gaps?
There is always a bit of an elephant-in-the-room situation where neither the interviewer nor myself really want to talk about disability and what needs I have. Sometimes, it’s down to people not knowing what is politically correct to bring up and what the terminology should be. If you feel comfortable in the interview or think you have a solid chance at getting the job – you need to be the one to start this conversation and set the tone. At times, it might not even come up till the second or third interview, and that’s probably a good sign that an employer is looking at your skills and experience and not your disability. Be transparent, constructive, and part of the solution to help them solve reasonable adjustments. An employer can’t make adjustments if they don’t understand what the issues are.
What advice do you have for someone who’s managing a job for the first time, in terms of communicating with new colleagues and the employer? How can one approach this so that it’s comfortable and inclusive for everyone?
This is very specific to the nature of one’s disability and how confident and comfortable they are with talking about it. I guess my policy is that you need to know when to ask for help, and if you don’t ask, then don’t expect to get any. There’s a grey area between when a person with a disability needs to adapt to the situation and when an employer needs to take action.
Seek assistance and guidance from your line manager. Communication must come with the support of line managers and not just HR. A good employer understands that they have a duty to help you fit in from day one and not just leave it to you to work it out.
What are some misconceptions about professionals with disabilities that you would like to change?
They are weak or can’t keep up with able-bodied employees in the same role. - Fact: You should judge the person, not the disability.
They are less dependable or dedicated to the job. - Fact: They are more motivated to retain their job because they find it harder to find employment in the first place. They tend to be more loyal because they appreciate the effort employers take to treat them fairly.
They are more likely to be litigious / Employers think of them as “problem employees”. - Fact: Treat people with fairness and respect, and they won’t be either of those. This applies to everyone, regardless of disability.
You have mentioned before that everyone has aspirations and having a disability should not stop one from pursuing them. What are three things you’d tell someone who might feel discouraged in doing so?
Focus on what you can do and how you can improve yourself. Don’t let the criticisms of others knock you down. Learn from criticism when it’s fair and relevant and use it to guide your own improvement.
No one feels sorry for you and doing so won’t help you anyway. It’s harsh but you need to get over this, otherwise you won’t have the right frame of mind to convince an employer that you are the right fit for the job.
Have a sense of humour about yourself. If you are comfortable about your disability, others likely will too.